NHL hits Leafs’ Jason Spezza with six games for kneeing Neal Pionk in the head

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza received a six-game suspension Tuesday for what the NHL Department of Player Safety deemed a “reckless and retaliatory knee to the head” that injured Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk.

Reports Tuesday indicated that Spezza planned to appeal the suspension. He was not in Toronto’s lineup Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

[brid autoplay=”true” video=”861998″ player=”23765″ title=”Who%20can%20win%20the%20Cup%20in%202022″ duration=”undefined” description=”These five teams are the top contenders for the Stanley Cup in the 2021-22 NHL season.” uploaddate=”2021-09-12″ thumbnailurl=”//cdn.brid.tv/live/partners/18116/thumb/861998_t_1631466589.png” contentUrl=”//cdn.brid.tv/live/partners/18116/sd/861998.mp4″]

NHL suspends Spezza six games

The discipline came following an in-person hearing (over Zoom) for Spezza following Sunday’s spate of incidents in the Maple Leafs-Jets game. Pionk received a two-game suspension Monday for a knee-to-knee hit on Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin during the third period of that game.

Less than two minutes after that hit, Pionk, who had lost his stick, dove to the ice to make a play for the puck. Spezza skated over and lowered his left knee to make forceful contact with the side of Pionk’s head.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said earlier Tuesday that Pionk had entered concussion protocol and would miss at least three games as a result.

In an explanation video released by the Department of Player Safety, a league official said that Spezza and the Maple Leafs argued that a knee to the head wasn’t considered kneeing, and that Spezza could have made a legal check had Pionk not changed the position of his head. The official said that the league disagreed with those arguments.

The department acknowledged that Spezza has never been suspended nor fined in his 1,203-game NHL career.

“Ultimately, while we believe that Spezza’s long history of clean play supports his argument that he does not intentionally drive his knee into the head of Pionk, this is a play in which he is attempting to enact forceful retribution on a player who is in a vulnerable position,” the official said.

In his third season with the Leafs, Spezza has tallied seven goals and four assists over 26 games.

Jets Pionk out with concussion

neal pionk injured
Dec 5, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk (4) skates away from Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Taveres (91) during the first period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk is in concussion protocol and will miss at least three games.

The Jets host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, and coach Paul Maurice said Pionk will not go on the road trip to face the Seattle Kraken on Thursday and Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

Pionk, 26, was injured during a 6-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night by Spezza.

Pionk received a two-game suspension from the NHL for a knee-on-knee hit in that game against Toronto defenseman Rasmus Sandin, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

Pionk has two goals and 14 assists in 24 games this season. He has 133 points (18 goals, 115 assists) in 250 games with the New York Rangers (2017-19) and Jets.

–Field Level Media